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Learning Through Play

SOAR365 Pediatric Therapy Serves a Critical Need in Our Community

Bubbles, toys and crayons galore. Every day in homes across Central Virginia, SOAR365 pediatric therapists are hard at work. But at first glance, it might look like play!

In fact, that’s how SOAR365 Clinical Lead and Speech-Language Pathologist, Stephanie Howley, became interested in the field. As an elementary school student, she remembers seeing a pediatric therapist working with a child on television.

“They were playing games, and I thought, ‘That would be a great field to go into!’” says Stephanie, with a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to do this as far back as I can remember.”

While SOAR365’s pediatric therapists offer both early intervention and outpatient therapies, 90% of the children we serve are in early intervention. This program provides speech, occupational and physical therapy to children from birth to three years old. Our therapists come to them, so the children can practice new skills right in their own environment—at home, the library, the grocery store, daycare or the playground.

Studies show that children learn best with this approach, and it makes it easier for caregivers to learn, too. Parents are taught to use everyday objects and daily routines to help support their child at home or on the go, which makes it easier to practice.

And with more practice comes more confidence. In 2022, 96% of SOAR365 parents and caregivers said they felt more confident in their ability to meet their child’s needs.

“The families are really what it’s all about for me,” says longtime SOAR365 physical therapist, Elaine Kasten. “It’s not just my joy in seeing that child walk for the first time, or crawl or say mama. The parent’s face when they say it is really cool to see! And how proud they look of their child.”

Both Stephanie and Elaine emphasize the importance of encouraging and coaching parents to be hands on. They agree that the best part is seeing how early intervention empowers parents, like Jack’s.

Born with a rare genetic disorder, Warsaw Breakage Syndrome, Jack has been receiving pediatric therapy at SOAR365 since he was an infant. That combined with surgery helped him grow by leaps and bounds. “He started walking in June of this year and is now full on wild like a typical 2.5 year old boy, trying to jump off the couch, scale the stairs, and climb the bookcase,” says Jack’s mom, Sierra.

Jack’s doing so well, he will now only need to see his physical therapist, Samantha Cipolla every other week. These results are amazing, but not unusual. An impressive 83% of children in our program showed significant progress within six months of beginning therapy in 2022.

Sierra is so excited but shares that both her children will miss seeing Sam more often.

“She’s part of the family!” says Sierra.

This program is critically needed in our community. Nationwide, the number of children diagnosed with a developmental disability is on the rise. But the cost of providing these services is greater than the payment we receive. As the largest provider of early intervention services in central Virginia, we rely on our donors to help us cover the gap.

“Robins Foundation was very pleased to support SOAR365’s Pediatric Therapy program,” said Meg Pienkowski, PhD, Robins’ Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Education. “Their innovative and inclusive therapy model is changing the lives of the young children and families with whom they work.”

Most of the families we serve have income levels below or near the poverty line. Because we come to them, they don’t have to worry about childcare or arranging transportation.

Sierra Phillips and her family. Sierra advocates for awareness of Warsaw Breakage Syndrome and has created The Disability Resource Guide ( for families of children with disabilities.

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